By Mike Puccinelli

CHICAGO (CBS) — With classes starting next week, Chicago Public Schools officials are expanding the district’s Safe Passage program, to make sure more kids get to school safe and sound.

At an annual back to school rally at Chicago State University, CPS announced three more schools are getting Safe Passage routes this year, bringing the total number of schools in the program to 160.

About 76,000 students from approximately one-quarter of the district’s schools will head to class along Safe Passage routes when classes begin Tuesday.

The 160 schools in the program represent a roughly 500 percent increase in the schools served by Safe Passage when it started in 2012.

Chatham resident Lavell Jones said he’s glad to see Deneen Elementary has been added to the program this year.

“I think it’s great. I was kind of familiar with Safe Passage from another neighborhood. So the kids kind of get to know the workers, and it’s a good bond when they come to school, and they see familiar faces as they make it back and forth to school,” he said.

Safe Passage worker Kim Preston said it’s important for students to know, not only do their families care about their safety, but so do others in their neighborhoods.

The other new schools in the program are O’Keeffe Elementary School in the South Shore neighborhood, and Pickard Elementary School in the Lower West Side neighborhood.

City officials said crime along Safe Passage routes has dropped by 9 percent since 2017.

Mike Puccinelli